Even as the Vice-Chancellor of JNU is accused of destroying the democratic and academic institutions of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, with its teachers and students unions having declared a ‘no-confidence’ motion against him, yet another high-profile centre, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) in the School of Social Sciences (SSS), has been trapped in a recent controversy, courtesy, the Dean of the school, Pradipta K Chaudhury.
This year, the SSS Dean, for inexplicable reasons, bypassed the entire academic college and announced that Prof. Shiv Choudhary, Head of Department of Cardio-Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, AIIMS, Delhi, will deliver the annual Krishna Bharadwaj Memorial Lecture, named after eminent economist Krishna Bharadwaj. He was slated to speak on: ‘Conquering the Invincible: A Journey of Courage’. What a doctor has to do with a lecture named after an economist and dedicated to the discipline of economics is something that has baffled all.
Professor (late) Krishna Bharadwaj was a distinguished and world- class economist and teacher, founder of the eminent Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP), in the SSS, perhaps one of the finest centres of higher studies in JNU. Her faculty colleagues in the CESP included the who’s who of economic studies in India: Professors Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, Sunanda Sen, Abhijit Sen, CP Chandrashekhar, Satish Jain, Arun Kumar, among others. The entire CESP, faculty and students, thereby, organise a memorial lecture annually as a tribute to Prof Bharadwaj.
Prof. Shiv Chaudhury’s lecture was boycotted by the faculty and students of CESP and other SSS students on March 8. Less than 25 people were seen in the audience in the empty hall.
In a resolution, the students of CESP in the General Body Meeting held on March 7, discussed about the “undemocratic, unilateral and authoritative decision by the SSS Dean regarding the Krishna Bharadwaj Memorial Lecture (KBML).” The resolution said, “As per the convention for the KBML, CESP faculty members decide on the speaker through a faculty meeting, which is considered as the final decision. But, this year, the SSS Dean has bypassed this procedure and unilaterally decided everything, which is basically a big insult to the Professor Bharadwaj. The entire CESP, the teachers and the students, have not been consulted… Daughter of Prof Bharadwaj, Sudha Bharadwaj, expressed her discontent with the undemocratic behaviour of the SSS Dean and rejected the invitation to attend the lecture. As the whole CESP faculty is not considering the programme on March 8, as the official KBML, we, the students of CESP, have decided that we do not consider this event as our KBML. We rather take this as an insult to the legacy of Professor Bharadwaj. We, the students of CESP decided to boycott the event organised by SSS Dean.”
“This year, the SSS Dean has bypassed this procedure and unilaterally decided everything, which is basically a big insult to the Professor Bharadwaj. The entire CESP, the teachers and the students, have not been consulted,” said a resolution by the students of CESP
Sudha Bhardwaj, lawyer and trade unionist, and a former student of JNU, promptly sent a letter to the Dean withdrawing from the programme. She wrote, “It has come to my notice that departing from the process of organisation of all previous memorial lectures, this lecture has been organised bypassing the CESP. Prof Bharadwaj was not only an eminent scholar but also a thorough democrat. It is unlikely that she would have approved of an administrative decision that was carried out without consultation with the institution that she spent decades of her life nurturing – namely, the CESP. Even during the Emergency, the CESP stood out for its bold stand in favour of its autonomy and the welfare of its faculty and students. I regret that it will not be possible for me to attend the lecture.”
Others in the faculty brought out a note which was widely circulated in the social media. “This year, the CESP faculty had planned the event, deciding through discussion to invite eminent social scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a former member of the JNU faculty and President of the Centre of Policy Research, and current Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University, to deliver the 26th Krishna Bharadwaj Memorial Lecture. However, the current Dean of SSS has chosen to bypass the Centre completely and has suddenly decided – without any consultation – on a lecture with a completely different speaker, which, for reasons known only to himself, has been announced as the memorial lecture. It is remarkable that this decision has been made all of a sudden without even informing, let alone discussing the matter with, the CESP.”
The faculty has decided that it will implement the decision to invite Prof Mehta and organise the 26th memorial lecture in the last week of March, 2018. In the event of the controversy, messages of solidarity from former students and academics from across India and universities all over the world, has poured in. There are proposals to live-stream the lecture so that it can be witnessed by students and academics all over the world. Said economist Smita Gupta, former student of CESP: “The March 8 lecture was a flop. We are organising the main lecture in the end of March. I can assure you, it will be packed.”
Wrote Nandini Dutta, who teaches at Miranda College, University of Delhi, in a Facebook post on the wall of this reporter: “She was my teacher and how I remember her CTVD classes -- classical theories of value and distribution. And, how we did Piero Sraffa and his small 90 pages book for most of the semester. I also remember the first memorial lecture at the SSS Auditorium delivered by Prof Romila Thapar (legendary historian) on the notion of time in history. I remember how we all went to the Bela Road crematorium on Prof Bharadwaj’s last journey. Time flies and now it is the 25th year of that series of lectures. I have been stunned for the last few days and months at how such systematic attempts are being made to destroy every institution and its ethos. It saddens me and angers me at my own despondency. May better times prevail, but we will make this event a big success by our presence whenever it happens. CESP we are waiting to hear from you!”